The regional effect.
The regional effect.
SourceAustralian Print Symposium. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1987 - ongoing.
Countries of context
Aotearoa New Zealand | Australia
The Regional Effect.
by Marian Maguire
I run a printmaking workshop in Christchurch, New Zealand and have done so for about 15 years. The current studio is called PaperGraphica and we specialise in lithography but also make etchings and woodcuts. We have just moved into a new premises that incorporates gallery, print studio and artist studio in a garden setting close to the centre of Christchurch.
I studied at the Canterbury School of Art and then went on to the Tamarind Institute of Lithography where I completed the Professional Printer Training Programme. I have settled into working with about eight artists a year on a collaborative basis, and tend to work with the same artists over again so there are about fifteen to twenty artists I work with regularly.
If you would like to find out more about PaperGraphica you can check out our website www.papergraphica.co.nz
The title of this session is ‘In the region’ and alongside this symposium is the exhibition Islands in the sun, prints by indigenous artists from the Australasian region. The John Pule tryptich in the show, Islands in the sun, was one that I printed a few years ago. I would like to show you slides of John’s new suite of lithographs Restless spirit and contrast them with some prints by Ralph Hotere, an established New Zealand Maori artist and Grahame Sydney, a regional realist, both of whose work I also help produce.
John Pule was born in Niue but left there at the age of two to be brought up in South Auckland, an area that John calls the ‘slum of New Zealand’. It has elements of Pacific and New Zealand culture but, in John’s case, not the strengths of either. Once grown he expanded his education without the benefit of a tertiary institution and found a voice for himself in writing and the visual arts.
His writing is wide ranging and moves from poetry to prose, drawing from the New Zealand environment, Pacific imagery and mythology. He has particular interest in the effect of colonisation on the Island nation Niue and the clashing of myth and idea which resulted from the arrival of the missionaries. His artwork has a Pacific feel, with the flat surface of siapo design, eclectic subject matter and a readability that you might find in an Egyptian panel. The new series, Restless spirit moves away from the grid patterning of siapo and more freely uses the picture plane.
There are twelve lithographs including the frontispiece and the suite is titled after a chapter of the same name from John’s novel The shark that ate the sun. (Penguin 1992). I thought I would show you some slides of the series and read a couple of extracts from the text.
‘Love, how is it that I mention your name which moistens my lips and a darkness breathes at the same time that I call on your famous philosophers? Suddenly a dazzling star spirals into reality. Then why do I sleep on a bed that knows every secret? The destructive animal born from a confused cell and fed on despair, becomes fat, lazy, dormant, moving nowhere. When I say your name who else do I call up from the floor where they, some god’s restless creation, play on happily in spite of a procession meeting daily? Out of an intelligence a star that stuns the sleepy obscure hope with a nameless island for a heart, a street bordering on schizophrenic behaviour, out of this intelligence, how does the mad image stop being a teacher of darkness when the fire and soul of the human song dominates the conversation?
Love, where does your strength abide? Among these raw buildings that look like mountains of modern nature I search for your golden eyes. I know among these things I finally hold your hand, because you are one of many that I must believe in to overcome the pain that troubles my psyche.’
'Who are you, my lover whispered, because when you sleep I keep falling from a bridge. I am lost. I hold her close. We hold each other close. I waited for twenty-six years until finally a dog barked, and since I lived alone I always had something to say. I am the love poet, the ugly poet, the war poet, a giant in a tiny soul. As I walk back and forth from working in a factory I stop at a party and get drunk until the moon is in my pocket and the street leads to paradise at the end of the highway. I decided to live in a phone box for the night.
I was so drunk I forgot my name, forgot the name of my country, forgot my village, my people, my sister’s children, and where I live.’
Ralph Hotere, by contrast was born and raised in the north of the North Island, in his ancestral homeland. While this area is not socio-economically wealthy it is the land in which the myths of his tribal group find root. Despite this Ralph has chosen to work in a largely European mode of expression and draws on the culture of Spain as readily as his own background. (This is not surprising, however, given Hotere’s Catholic upbringing.) While Hotere is an artist and a Maori, his work is not an expression of Maori culture. In some ways Ralph defies classification and challenges the viewer to find their own response; or not.
I can by no means overview the extent and range of Hotere’s work nor would I attempt to precis its significance so will instead read this poem by Hone Tuwhare who is a longtime friend of Ralph. He wrote this when Ralph was working on a minimalist series of work in the late 1960s.
When you offer only three
vertical lines precisely drawn
and set into a dark pool of lacquer
it is a visual kind of starvation:
and even though my eyeballs
roll up and over and peer inside
myself, when I reach the beginning
of your eternity I say instead: hell
let's have another feed of mussels
Like I have to think about it man
When you stack horizontal lines
into vertical columns which appear
to advance, recede, shimmer and wave
like exploding packs of cards
I merely grunt and say: well, if it
is not a famine, it's a feast
I have to roll another smoke, man
But when you score a superb orange
circle on a purple thought-base
I shake my head and say: hell, what is
this thing called aroha
Like, I'm euchred man, I'm eclipsed
Hone Tuwhare 1970
(Copyright by permission of Random House)
In contrast Grahame Sydney can be readily described as a realist. And where Hotere may pursue an indefinable universal Sydney’s work is rooted in the landscape of the deep south. Culturally Anglo-Saxon and brought up in Otago, Sydney paints the region in which he has lived his whole life.
While his work is realist in style it is highly personal in choice and treatment of imagery. It has a quality that takes the viewer, especially those already familiar with the land he particularises, into an area of their own experience that seems to cause pause.
In his own words:
“I do believe very firmly, that in all creative life – not just the visual arts, but in literature and film making and music and so on – that the best work has always come out of a person's happy acceptance of what is referred to as their ‘own backyard’.”
This is an interesting statement when looked at in relation to John Pule; and it may be noted that each artist admires the other’s endeavours.
What is John Pule’s backyard? It can hardly be the ‘slum of New Zealand’ as he describes his South Auckland beginnings. Is it Niue, the ancestral home, is it the life he lives now which is a moving between cultures. I don't think the ‘backyard’ of a person in John's position is easy to define and one of the difficulties I think for artists, that we may call indigenous for want of a better word, is that the old culture no longer exists as it was and indigineous communities are in a state of rapid change.
Grahame Sydney also says “The great purpose of landscape art is to make us at home in our own country.”
And maybe the purpose of any art is to create attachments and threads of connection that define our own humanity.
© Marian Maguire, 2001.
Paper presented at The Fourth Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2001.